Today is the last Sunday of the Christian year, so it is a good time to pause and to think about the journey we have made together over this year.
The Christian year began on the first Sunday of Advent last December. During the Advent season, we looked forward to the birth of our Lord and the twelve days of Christmas. The Christian year basically skips over Jesus’ childhood, about which the Gospels tell us little. A few weeks after Christmas we commemorated Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. We followed Jesus’ ministry into Holy Week, which ended with Christ’s crucifixion. Then came the fabulous fifty days of the Easter season. That covered roughly half of the Christian year.
The second half of the Christian year is the long season of Pentecost. On Pentecost, we heard the story of how the risen Lord sent the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples to live as his body in the world. That began the story of the Church, and the Church story is still unfolding today. We here at Saint David’s are part of the ongoing Church story. As was true for the disciples all those years ago, so also to us the resurrected Christ sends the Holy Spirit. Like them in their time, we are Christ’s body in our time.
Pentecost ends today, as we acknowledge that Christ will ultimately reign as our king and as king of all creation. The entire Christian year, and all of human history, culminates with Christ the King. Today is a big day!
On this Christ the King Sunday, our epistle makes obvious sense. Paul reminds us that we have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. That’s good news.
And Paul reminds us exactly who our king is: the very image of the invisible God, the one in whom all things in heaven and on earth were created, the one through whom and for whom all things were created, the one in whom all things hold together.
We may have trouble wrapping our minds around some of what Colossians says about Christ. But this much is clear: before such a king, we bow down in worship and adoration. That makes sense on Christ the King Sunday.
The surprising reading for this morning, and the paradoxical good news of this day, comes from our Gospel. Jesus is getting crucified. And, at least at first, Jesus doesn’t look very regal on the cross. The only people who call Christ “king” in our reading are mocking him. What are we supposed to do with that on Christ the King Sunday?
My temptation, shaped by years of watching Hollywood movies and imbibing messages from popular culture, is to “improve” the story by adding my own ending.
Virtually every adventure story follows the same pattern. Our hero battles the forces of evil. Despite his best efforts, our hero is overcome. All seems lost. Then, just at the moment evil seems to have triumphed, our hero summons a last bit of strength and courage, rises up, and conquers.
The crucifixion is a perfect set-up for that story. After years of heroic ministry, Jesus has been overcome by his enemies. At the moment of their victory, the bad guys talk too much, as the bad guys always do. They challenge Christ to come down from the cross, to reveal his divine power.
(This is the part I would add.) Suddenly Jesus looks up to heaven, says a prayer, and does just that. Jesus yanks his limbs off the cross. The astonished onlookers don’t know what to do. While they stand there, paralyzed with fear, Jesus zaps them with some kind of heavenly death ray. His followers take heart. Jesus leads them into Jerusalem where he confronts Judas, has a triumphant showdown with Pilate and the religious leaders who condemned him, and claims his rightful place as Israel’s ruler. In the very last scene, Jesus takes a weeping Mary Magdalene in his arms, and the screen goes dark.
That is an American kind of king.
But of course, Jesus is not at all that kind of king. Jesus could have done exactly that. After all, Jesus has all the power of creation at his fingertips. And yet Jesus chooses to forgive those who kill him, and to die for love of us all. God dies for us. It is astonishing.
On this Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate a king who has power beyond our wildest imagination and yet who gives up everything for us. That is much more impressive than anything Hollywood could come up with.
Almost as amazing, the God who gives up everything for us leaves us the freedom to decide how we want to respond to God’s incredible gift. We can belittle it, as the spectators on Golgotha did. We can ignore it, as most of the residents of Jerusalem did and, if we are honest, as we all do at least some of the time.
There is a better way.
I am reading a book by a contemporary theologian with the fabulous name Miroslav Volf. Volf reminds us that we cannot repay God for everything that Christ does for us on the cross. We can’t offer God anything that we didn’t receive from God in the first place. To pretend otherwise is to deny our utter dependence on God’s grace.
Thankfully, God doesn’t ask for repayment. All that God asks is that we receive the gift that God gives us through Jesus Christ with faithfulness and gratitude. That is a good lesson for us as we head into week of Thanksgiving.
And God asks that we follow Christ’s example as best we can, that we who have received generously in turn give generously. Volf says, “we were created to be and to act like God. And so the flow of God’s gifts shouldn’t stop as soon as it reaches us. The outbound movement must continue. Indeed…giving to others is the very purpose for which God [gives] us the gifts” in the first place (49).
Volf is describing the rhythm of the Christian life. We gather to be nourished by God’s word and by the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. And then we go out into the world to share the good news we have heard and to spread the grace and love we have received.
On this Christ the King Sunday, as we enter Thanksgiving week, I invite you to reflect both on the gifts you have received and on the way that you share them with others. I invite you to reflect on your stewardship.
Most of you should have received a letter from me last week, with a pledge card enclosed. If you didn’t get the letter, please let the office know so that we can make sure we have your correct address. We also have extra pledge cards available in the narthex.
I hope you will take some time this week to prayerfully consider making a pledge to Saint David’s for 2020.
And I hope your time of prayerful reflection is a joy. As Volf says, we don’t give as a way of fulfilling an obligation, of paying God back somehow. We can’t. Instead we give as an expression of love and gratitude to the God who has given so much to us, to the great king who willingly accepted crucifixion to bring us into right relationship with Him.
And whatever you do about a pledge, I urge you to take time this week truly to give thanks to God, and to Christ our King. In His name. Amen.
 Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, 2005.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan